Nation of Islam chief makes televised case for slave reparations

The Virginian-Pilot/March 1, 2004
By Nicole Morgan

Norfolk -- In the trans-Atlantic slave trade centuries ago, men and women were forced onto ships and put below deck in places that were hot, barely long enough for a person to stretch out and not high enough for anyone to sit up.

Many died of sickness and suffered from disease.

Once on American shores, the survivors were beaten until their skin peeled away, women were raped and their children sold.

Minister Louis Farrakhan , of the Nation of Islam recounted those horrors Sunday during a speech about reparations for descendants of slaves. His speech, broadcast from Chicago, was aired around the world .

A crowd at Norfolk State University's L. Douglas Wilder Performing Arts Center , which organizers estimated at 1,100 people, watched the speech live via satellite.

The children of murderous fathers must prove they're different from their ancestors, Farrakhan said, challenging white Americans and Europeans to have the courage to "right the wrong."

In a speech that incorporated spirituality and politics, Farrakhan acknowledged that he would make many people uncomfortable.

He criticized government and religious leaders for not caring enough to repair the cultural and economic damage caused by slavery.

He encouraged black people to learn about their tragic yet rich history. Such knowledge, Farrakhan said, would prevent black people from settling for less than they deserve in an effort to avoid more conflict between races.

In Norfolk, some of the crowd said they came to learn and to be inspired and that they enjoyed the message.

Clayton Marquez said people must atone for past wrongs, and others should learn their history. He said, "I agree with everything the minister said."

Jibril Rashad said Farrakhan's message was a challenge to Jews, Muslims and Christians to work together. "It's basically about how we can unify all the major faiths," he said.

Black people need to understand what reparations really mean, said Roland Parson , who said he has been studying Farrakhan's teachings for 20 years. It's not about money, he said, but it's about providing education and opportunities.

"Give us something so we can get back to loving each other the way we're supposed to," Parson said.

In his speech, Farrakhan said that love can be difficult to achieve, as black people heal from wounds that are still present from a period that lasted 400 years.

Perhaps out of apathy, many government and spiritual leaders don't care about the injustices of their forefathers, Farrakhan said. Today, he said, many don't believe they have a part in repairing the damage caused to a race of people.

But, he said, they do have an obligation.

The riches from the crops those Africans raised - cotton, sugar, tobacco, indigo - sparked capitalism and the industrial revolution, and funded banks that still control much of the world's finances. That slave trade offered many white people the wealth and influence they enjoy today in politics and education, Farrakhan said.

Europe and the United States owe black people education and a fair chance at economic development. And, he said, those opportunities shouldn't be limited to just blacks in ce tain income levels or locations, but to blacks everywhere.

White people today may not have committed the crime, Farrakhan said, but they must engage in a dialogue about reparations.

"Are you, the present generation of whites any better than your fathers?" he asked. "You didn't do it, but the responsibility to correct it is on your shoulders."

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